Welcome back, Watchers! After a lengthy wait (something any George R.R. Martin fan is familiar with), Game of Thrones is finally back with a new season of six episodes to conclude the show. With only a handful of episodes remaining, did “Winterfell” use its precious minutes well? Let’s dive in and find out.
Spoiler Note: This is our book reader’s recap, intended for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section may contain spoilers from the novels, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you have not read the books yet, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap, by Oz of Thrones!
Right off the bat, GoT knocks it out of the park with beautifully updated opening credits. The reduced scope of the episode could’ve left us with skimpy main titles but instead the show expanded the detail of GoT‘s legendary credits, going deep into Winterfell and the Red Keep, as well as adding in Last Hearth, which we briefly saw in this week’s episode, and a fallen Wall.
Back to the actual episode- season 8 begins very much as season 1 did, with a royal procession marching into Winterfell, with deliberate callbacks to the first episode. In “Winter is Coming,” King Robert arrived, as Arya raced through the town, trying to get a glimpse of the action; this time, a young boy plays that role, as a grown Arya watches, probably remembering how she once did the same. If the emotion of that wasn’t enough, we get a one-two-three punch of it a moment later as Arya sees Jon, The Hound and Gendry all arrive. I’m not sure which reunion I’m itching to see first (that’s a lie, it’s Gendry- I’m sorry, I’m weak). In an episode loaded with reunions, it’s difficult to choose.
It’s apparent it won’t be easy for Daenerys in the North, from the start. Northerners have a long memory, and her father did execute Ned’s father and brother. As far as people are concerned publicly, Dany’s brother Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna Stark. On the show, we saw Jon crowned King in the North by his people; they didn’t choose this southern queen.
I love that Jon has a weird reunion with Bran just like his siblings did. Nothing will ever be normal for the Three Eyed Raven. He has no patience for these basic human rituals when reanimated corpses are marching around the North. He really is Bran the Buzzkill now, isn’t he?
With the Wall fallen, they decide its time to clear out Last Hearth, the Umbers’ place. Little Ned Umber heads back home with the support of the Starks and Dany, and no one thought this was a bad plan. Really? Okay. He couldn’t have designated some of his men to do it for him? He’s not even in puberty. Okay then.
Lyanna Mormont calls out the awkward elephant in the room then, that they crowned Jon only for him to immediately kneel. Jon makes a good point, but he is running into the same struggle he did when he led the Night’s Watch. He’s basically correct, but he doesn’t win people over to his cause and earn their support, before he makes drastic decisions.
People will criticize the Sansa-Dany conflict but I find it much more organic so far this season, what we’ve seen in this one episode. In season 7, the conflict between Sansa and Arya was drawn out pointlessly to fill time. But it’s understandable to me that there are genuine points of contention between Daenerys and Sansa, with the two having just met under less than ideal circumstances. That doesn’t make either of them bad people or poorly written. It’s a source of drama that I look forward to being resolved in an interesting way. I hope to see it resolved with them coming to terms, rather than being enemies.
Another reunion, satisfying but less emotionally resonant for me: Sansa and Tyrion. The (estranged? divorced? what’s the deal here?) spouses spar and take stock of one another, with Tyrion appreciating that Sansa survived them all as he once predicted she might, while Sansa correctly challenges Tyrion’s naivete in trusting Cersei.
Jon and Arya’s reunion in the godswood underscores how much he doesn’t know his little sister anymore. He doesn’t realize how much she’s had to use the gift he gave her, how much Needlework she’s had to do to survive. I suspect the admonition Arya gives Jon, about remembering family, will be an important one this season.
In King’s Landing, Cersei receives news that the dead have broken through the Wall. She’s cool with that because she’s terrible and all has gone according to plan, mwahahaha.
On Euron’s ship nearby, Yara lives! Mostly because Euron is bored and narcisstic and wants someone to talk to. The only motivation they can come up with him for sticking around is that he still wants to fuck the queen. This is not that riveting, and a weak point in the episode.
The Golden Company’s leader is presented to Cersei at the Red Keep, with the show slipping in a reference to the book-Company’s elephants which clearly did not fit into GoT‘s budget. It’s just as well. Fewer elephants and time with the Golden Company means we get to spend more time listening to Euron talk about how he wants to fuck Cersei.
No, wait. Sigh.
Anyway. Cersei, sensing she’s put the unstable Euron off for too long capitulates and invites him to bed.
At a brothel somewhere, Bronn is having sexy times with three unnamed sex workers. Qyburn interrupts and brings the mercenary an offer: kill the Lannister brothers. Are we finally going to get an opportunity to see if Bronn is as ruthless as he claims to be? He once claimed he’d kill a child for the right price. Bronn is unpredictable, and strangely loyal for a sellsword. His affection for Tyrion and Jaime is a weak point. He’ll take the gig but somehow I don’t think he’ll be able to finish the job.
Meanwhile, Euron is having fun with Cersei, and wants to put a prince in her belly, but has no idea that that uterus is already occupied.
HECK YEAH THEON! But he most definitely had the headbutt coming that Yara gives him after he frees her from captivity. Theon abandoned his sister in the sea battle last season, leaving her to the mercy of her uncle. God knows how Yara has suffered all this time. But he came back for her, so four for you, Theon Greyjoy!
Yara is planning to head home to the Iron Islands, safe from the invasion of the White Walkers, but she can see Theon has other wishes. She encourages him to fight for the Starks. I suppose she’ll drop him off in the area on the shore, and a jet pack will take him the rest of the way to Winterfell.
Speaking of Winterfell, the braintrust of right-hand men (Davos, Tyrion and Varys) convene for a walk-and-talk a la The West Wing to assess the current situation with the queen and her unofficial consort. Of special note: ominous words from Varys as he gazes at Dany and Jon and says, “Nothing lasts.”
Honestly how do they stay on the dragon without a saddle and reins…or anything? Kit Harington has impressive thigh muscles but I just don’t understand how it all works. Anyway, Jon goes for a hot-rodding session on Rhaegal, with Dany and Drogon, and manages to not die, which was also very impressive of him. I mean we know he’s a Targaryen so it will work out, but Dany doesn’t, so it legit seems like she’s trying to murder her boyfriend with this joyride.
Incidentally, any single parent recognizes that funny stare from the dragons: it’s the look your kids give you when they catch you making out with your boyfriend. Yes, yes it is weird and uncomfortable.
Reunion number…I don’t know, 5? The Hound and Arya. He calls her a bitch, she reminds him that she robbed him before she left him to die, and he walks away with the light of admiration in his eye. That’s his murder daughter, you can’t tell me he’s not a little proud. Can’t wait to see Sandor use the dragonglass weapon he scored from Gendry!
Next reunion: Gendry/Arya. I fully lost my shit over the blacksmith rom-com shenanigans. “As you wish, m’lady.” Are you fucking kidding me? Don’t tell me we’re not supposed to ship this. Christ on a cracker. I’ve got the vapors.
In less-cute moments, Deepwood Motte sends word that Lord Glover is staying put and not joining the Starks because of Jon’s bending the knee. Sansa gives Jon hell for it, but he defends his choice. Meanwhile Dany is off attempting to make more friends in the North…and unfortunately makes it all so much worse.
Offering her thanks to Sam for healing Jorah, Daenerys realizes she roasted his father and brother. After she steps up and admits what happened, Sam does not take it well. You did not win over Jon’s best friend, Dany. Not even close.
Running into Bran outside, Bran coyly says he’s “waiting for an old friend.” Hmmmmm, inscrutable. He encourages Sam to tell Jon the truth finally about who he is.
Still reeling from the news Dany shared, Sam rushes into the truth: Jon is the bloody King of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jon is in denial; it can’t be possible, but Sam hammers home the facts. You can see that the truth is so large and overwhelming that it hasn’t even occurred to Jon yet that his girlfriend is his aunt.
Beric, Tormund, and men from the Night’s Watch turn up at Last Hearth in a spooky sequence, that turns comical as they run into Dolorous Edd. Slowly we realize something terrible has happened, as Edd reveals a bashed-up room- and the impaled body of a boy, stuck to a wall, with limbs arranged around him in a familiar swirl pattern. It’s Ned Umber, sent home to die. He reanimates as a wight, but is quickly put down with fire.
In Winterfell, more people stream in, including a mysterious hooded figure. He dismounts, removes his hood and then we know- it’s Jaime! He’s made it to the North. But don’t be relieved just yet. He turns and finds Bran staring him down- the Three Eyed Raven was waiting for him, and there’s a reckoning long overdue.
Theon’s Redemption: It was fantastic to see Theon able to save his sister, and able to make up for not only the sea battle, but also when she tried to save him from the Dreadfort. I’m relieved to see Yara saved, with her tongue intact.
John Bradley: Obviously this is a great cast but he was my star of the episode. Sam reacting to the death of his brother and the father (whom he hated, but still his dad!) was beautiful acting.
The Smart One: Can I just say how much I appreciate Arya acknowledging that Sansa is the smartest person she knows? It undoes some of the damage from season 7, for me.
Alas, poor Ned: What a cursed name.
Dragonglass Army: I am ridiculously excited to see the pile of weapons Gendry is going to make out of the dragonglass. Starting with that javelin thingy Arya designed, which seems like a split cousin of the ice javelin the Night King used to kill Viserion. Has Arya figured out something new?
Surprise! I’m shocked at the tiny body-count.
Overall? The King’s Landing portions had some clunky bits and the dragon joyride date went on too long, but I thought it was a great episode to set up the entire season, and covered a ton of ground while dealing with a lot of emotional baggage. Overall rating 8/10.